Until recent years, women’s role in medical studies and clinical trials has been largely inadequate. It has often been argued that scientists were worried about the possible role that the female menstrual cycle could play in examining probable side effects of certain drugs, which has ultimately led to major discrepancies in our understanding of many health conditions that affect women.
Why Do Women Suffer More from Chronic Pain than Men
According to a 2003 report in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, women are 70% more likely to suffer from chronic pain than men. Conversely, an article published by Harvard Health found that nearly 80% of all studies that examined chronic pain were done on men or male mice.
Along with an increased likelihood of experiencing chronic pain, a 2012 Journal of Pain study found that women also feel pain more intensely than men.
It is for these reasons that recent studies have been aimed at understanding more about the differences between how men and women respond to many conditions, including how they feel and respond to pain.
Genetics May Be the Cause of Gender Bias in Chronic Pain
In a recent study published in PLOS Genetics, scientists at the University of Glasgow believe they have uncovered the relationship between chronic pain and women. The answer is thought to be genetics.
Led by Keira Johnston, a demonstrator with the School of Life and Sciences at the University of Glasgow, the group of researchers examined data from 387,649 individuals in the United Kingdom (209,093 women and 178,556 men) for genetic variants associated with chronic pain. In women, 31 genes were associated with chronic pain, compared with the 37 found in men. Only one gene was associated with chronic pain in both men and women.
Scientists also found that chronic pain originates largely from the brain, rather than from the actual bodily site of the pain itself. The researchers examined a cluster of nerves in the spinal cord, known as the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), responsible for transmitting pain signals from the body to the brain. In men, all 37 genes associated with chronic pain were active in this area, whereas in women all but one of the 31 associated genes were active.
These findings point towards genetics as the probable cause of chronic pain’s prominence in women rather than men.
“Our study highlights the importance of considering sex as a biological variable and showed subtle but interesting sex differences in the genetics of chronic pain”
Researchers involved with the study argued that more research into chronic pain, as well as other conditions, could benefit greatly from approaches that take into account a person’s sex.
“Our study highlights the importance of considering sex as a biological variable and showed subtle but interesting sex differences in the genetics of chronic pain,” said Johnston in regards to the group’s findings.
The results from this study are still too early to point towards a definitive link between gender and chronic pain. However, this research supports previous work done by the same group, which points towards the origin of pain being in the brain, rather than a part of the body. Furthermore, the study suggests that sex plays some role in the prevalence of chronic pain.
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